The long-awaited debut album from actor/musician Riz MC (Riz Ahmed) is a glitched-out dissection of what happens when mixed medias converge. Occupying a space between the club and the concrete, this is intellectual rave music for the discerning rap fan. So many influences make congress on a playing field of rap, electronica, techno, dance, dupstep, glitch, crunk and grime. At the centre is Riz MC, a man trying to make sense of how the city manipulates our psyches, how fashion and friendliness battle, how cool and humble eat other in a battle royale of style over substance. The album is multimedia in its existence within an online game and themed videos that depict Riz as a dissident battling the mysterious Department of Culture and Communication as they wage sonic warfare on society, spreading misinformation through culture and music. Only one man stands… the filmic comparisons to the multimedia are strong and give the album a sense of nowness that springs it into a form of future protest music.
Then there’s the tunes themselves. Ten well-honed, slick, tightly-produced and fiercely-rapped songs create a sense of neo-grime. They all converge at this apex where computers, media, convergence of online and real-life personalities have all sucked our souls into tiny balls. ‘Radar’ is a throbbing urgent laser-infused missive about constantly concerning yourself with the latest and the coolest, and the need to label it, categorise it and simplify it for everyone, so you look like you got there first. ‘PPL Like PPL’ – all false starts, glitches squelches and a beat that gets faster and louder without ever changing tempo, such is its cleverness, is about the difference between being cool and being friendly. What’s more important to you? implores Riz. His soulful voice has many ranges: it can blast you with fierce rhyming, calmly dissect worlds with the space and temperament of a poet or urgently soulfully sing. It’s a versatile skill, one that seems to do the idea that he is merely an MC down. This is more than hip-hop. Riz MC is more than MC.
‘Don’t Sleep’ carries on this convergence of cultures into obsessions and a dark territory, exploring the machismo and emptiness of drugged-out hedonistic nights that lead to consequence-less self-mutilation and beast-like behaviour. Other subjects, like finding self-worth in the face of negativity, urban gentrification (featuring the brilliant call ‘My endz are still brown, black and Polish’), and the scary nature of fakeness at the afterparty in the superlative ‘Dark Hearts’ (which features an impressive Bladerunner-style video and some grimey, murky, disgusting rhythms courtest of Redinho.)
Riz MC has the pick of the producers, but the reliance on Lazersonic and Redinho for most of the production gives this album, with its loose concept-status, a real through line, a sense of togetherness. Each song can be extracted and bumped loudly in a club or in headphones, but together, they all serve a higher purpose, that of the MICroscope project (part of this involves a live show where Riz MC and a group of scientists perform social experiments in sonic warfare on the audience – a theatre rave, if you will).
This is a special album. Ten songs, all neatly honed at under 4 minutes, all with a statement, whether it be the recession or the tender, devastated polemic-debunking of ‘Sour Times’, whether it be about what it means to be jaded and superficial or what it means to be collected and friendly. the music holds itself on glitched out bleeps and glitches, heavily crunked up synths and samples that simmer and throb, electronic noises that give the entire album an almost science fiction-y, Dr Octagon-y feel, with less of a mad scientist lead, more of a man on a mission. Riz MC is more focussed than Kool Keith, more considered. Intelligent lyrics with a dark satirical sideways look at the world that exposes fakeries, bandwagon-jumping and the core of our readily-available instantly digestable culture. Each song’s a banger but the lyrics contain hidden layers of irony, punchlines of iron and steel, metaphors that grow with each listen.
This is an impressive debut. One of the year’s best. And I’m telling you, even though it’s January, this will be one of your favourite albums of 2011.
www.rizmc.com/lab – play the game, win some of the album